I sat there uncertain as to whether I should cry, or laugh hysterically. For 45 minutes I listened to a preacher exhort us on the evils of syncopated music. I do not have a problem with someone preaching on music from the Bible. Yet the speaker started in Exodus describing the dance of the Israelite people ground the golden calf and then spring boarded into an attack on all forms of music with a beat. How you go from Exodus to the evils of Evie astounded me. If you are going to argue this, there are far better forms of evidence in the New Testament, or other parts of the Old Testament. But to go from this passage to the preacher’s eventual conclusions was not logical.
I would like to encourage all pastors to look at the reasoning involved in their sermons. I have sat under some preaching that involved such mental leaps of logic and reasoning, that one wondered if a gold medal in mental gymnastics might have been awarded. We have all heard sermons based on a verse that then made claims preposterously out of step with the actual truth of the verse. This is called bad reasoning. Yet we accept erroneous conclusions from Scripture if there seemed a good heart behind the preaching, or if the idea is true, just not in the passage the preacher picked. The lack of clear reasoning in many sermons, leads many outside observers, to see preaching, and Christianity in general, as emotional, fear mongering drivel.
To analyze the reasoning in your sermon is a very simple, short task. It does not require a degree in logic or an extensive reading of Plato, or Bertrand Russell. Thanks to the work of Stephen Toulmin, there is a clear, useful way to analyze the arguments in a sermon. This article will describe Toulmin’s model for analyzing the arguments in a sermon, apply them to an actual example, and give some concluding implications for sermon preparation.
To Toulmin, an argument in a speech is defined as “movement from accepted data, through a warrant, to a claim” (Brockriede et.al., 364). The first idea that helps preachers is the idea of an argument as movement. When you put forward an argument you are trying to move your audience from one stance toward your intended goal. You want to move them from apathy to agreement, from hostility to hearing your argument. Either way it requires movement.
The next term that helps in analyzing an argument is that any argument is built on three parts. All arguments must first have data on which it is based. In preaching that data will mainly be Scripture. Second, every argument must make a claim based on that data. There are simple claims that involve no real argument, the claim is very clear from the data presented. Yet there are also arguments that are based on the same verse that come to widely different conclusions. Here the claims made from the data is not as clear. We will give examples of these later.
The final part to look at in an argument is the warrant. A warrant is what “authorizes the mental leap involved in advancing from data to claim” (Brockriede et.al., 364). In most controversial arguments, not everyone agrees with the claim made from the same data. The warrant is used to show that the leap from data to claim is justified. Imagine a deep canyon forming between your data and claim. How can you get across? The warrant is a bridge that helps you across. Or it’s a magic potion, that once drunken gives you the power to make the leap from data to claim.
Toulmin’s model can be easily diagrammed to help someone understand the model’s components:
The other nice aspect of Toulmin’s model is that is based on our use of the English language. A claim is the word therefore, the warrant is represented by the word since. These words, added to the diagram, help to explain it further:
(Since) Warrant
One final part of Toulmin’s model is the components of the warrant. Any warrant may have a backing, rebuttal, or a qualifier. These components aid the warrant in helping the leap from claim to data.
Backing is information that supports your warrant. Material that gives credence to your warrant. In a sermon it may be a quote from a famous theologian, a story proving your point, or other statements from Scripture that back up your warrant. Backing is represented by the word because. A rebuttal is an exception given to the claim. Cases where the arguer admits the claim may not be true. Finally, a qualifier refers to the degree of force the arguer believes his or her claim has. Some arguments you are prepared to defend your position against any attacks. Others seem more shaky and do not allow as firm a stand.
Now lets look at arguments from Scripture using our model. One example is the claim taken from Mark 16:15 “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” The claim taken from this verse is straightforward and would be diagramed like this:
“Go ye into “Christians must
all the world preach the
to preach … the gospel globally.”
This argument needs no warrant as the data itself is conclusive. Help is not needed to go from data to claim.
Now let’s look at a more complex argument. We will use a passage of Scripture that can be argued in many different ways. It says in I Corinthians 8:13 “Wherefore if meat maketh my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” I have heard various interpretations of Paul’s argument here. One argument from this verse would be diagramed like this:
(Since) Warrant
“Offend refers to causing a brother
to fall back into a sinful lifestyle”
“I will eat no. “I must stop from any
flesh …if it from any activity that
make my causes my brother to
brother to fall back into a sinful
offend” lifestyle.”
The data itself does not clearly support the claim. There is a leap involved from the data to the claim. This is where the warrant comes into play. The proof lies in the ability of the warrant to authorize the leap. A preacher taking this line of argument would have to spend a lot of the time proving the correctness of their interpretation of the word offend. Or in other words, proving their warrant.
The use of backing can be shown in the previous argument. The diagramed argument, including backing, would look like this:
(Because) Backing
“Theologian X agrees”
( Since ) Warrant
“Offend refers to causing
a brother to fall back into
a sinful lifestyle.”
“I will eat no flesh “I must stop from
if it make my brother any activity that
to offend …” causes my brother
to fall back into a
sinful lifestyle.”
I believe this model could be of value to preachers and preaching in the following ways:
– It could help preachers in seeing their sermons as arguments. Pastors need to understand that they have to prove their arguments. Gone are the days when whatever the pastor said was accepted as truth by the congregation. People are much more willing to argue and think through issues for themselves. It will enhance your preaching if you see the need to prove your sermon, to show how you reached your conclusions.
– It helps preachers in seeing where the proof of their argument lies. Is the data conclusive in and of itself, or does the proof lie in establishing and proving the warrant. Also, this model may help pastors in seeing that what they saw as a direct argument from data, is in fact, an argument that depends heavily on the warrant.
– Since Toulmin’s model follows the structure of human communication, it is easy to understand. Toulmin’s model is constructed according to a speaking pattern. The use of terms such as since, because and therefore, aids in its simplicity. Instead of diagraming your argument, you could verbally assess it. Going back to the argument based on I Corinthians 3:15, I could look at it by simply stating my argument: “The data says Paul would not eat meat, lest he offend his weaker brother. Since the word offend refers to causing to fall back into a previous lifestyle, because theologian x agrees, because the context seems to imply that conclusion, therefore Paul was referring to causing believers to revert to old, sinful practices and does not refer to annoying, or ticking off a brother in the Lord”. Simply verbally assessing the argument helps me to see I need to spend most of my time proving my definition of offend, saying what it is, as well as what it is not.
We need preachers who can articulate the reasoning behind their exhortations. I encourage all preachers of the Word of God to have the approach of Isaiah 1:19 in your preaching: “Come now, let us reason together.”

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